Friday, April 21, 2017
By my own choice, I do not belong to the Elbert County Citizens Page (ECCP). When the site's administrator, Marlene Groves, decided to censure me for what she felt was a purely political piece (which I contend it was not), I politely left the site. No name calling. No bashing. No ad hominem attacks to get back at her. She had every right to take it down because it is the way she wanted things to be on her web site. I have done the same thing on other sites. If an administrator does not want my writing, if they do not want my opinion, or if they do not like me personally, then it is their site, their choice, and they can do what they wish in terms of publication.
When I did write a weekly blog that was posted on the ECCP, I occasionally drew the wrath of Commissioner Richardson. He always talks a good game about people putting their names on things. He is always quick to point out when he believes that people do not have courage or if someone is being cowardly. He will even go so far as to accuse people of sniping at the Elbert County Administration in a cowardly fashion. He obviously needs to look up the word "coward," because he clearly does not know what it means. Richardson is not in any kind of minority in Elbert County, has not been bullied by any elected officials, nor has he ever gotten the run around by a paid minion of the Elbert County BOCC. It takes courage to stand up to abuse and speak truth to power. It takes no courage to be a part of the herd.
Besides being a champion for Ed Ehmann, Commissioner Richardson is making it his policy to do exactly what he claims to abhor. He snipes at anyone who does not agree with his beliefs. He denigrates anyone with an opposing view, and he does not bother to even consider why they might not be happy with his leadership. He attempts to sound very officious and proper in his own writing, but is usually betrayed by careless spelling and elementary grammatical errors. What he is normally doing is trying to squelch dissent by using all the trappings of his office to get his way. I provide an example for the readers following this paragraph. In this case, Richardson is using his position as an elected official to get the ECCP to take down a factual piece outlining what the author feels is unwarranted and unethical behavior on the part of Elbert County Manager, Ed Ehmann. He (Richardson) confuses legitimate and searchable information with "negativity and bashing" but all of the information in the article appear to be true. (This is an unedited copy of the actual email)
I ask that you remove the ECCAdmin post of the “Truth” Colorado item regarding MR. Ehmann. It not only violates your own stated “rules” that you don’t allow bashing or negativity but, the fact that the person who posted it is hiding behind the admin account name is appaling. Whoever posted it should have had the personal fortitude to publish it under their own name vs pass on that some vague “people” ask that it be posted. The source – a vanity website that apparently only exists for the ego satisfaction of failed candidates and former claiments – is not something I would think you would associate yourself with. I admire and welcome honest conflict. But, sniping from the shadows is cowardly and I would have expected more from the site that you run.
Christopher A. Richardson
Commissioner District 1
I have several points I feel I need to make:
Regarding this being a private and oh, so important email: I can hear him screaming in anger that this was shared with the likes of me, a "vain and failed candidate who possesses not an ounce of courage." What he will most likely miss in his tirade will be that the second he sends out an email like the one above, he is acting as an elected official. And, we, his constituents, and anyone else who might be interested, are legally privy to his emails where he uses his title and his official email. This could have easily been obtained with a CORA request. So much for any impropriety of which he will obviously accuse anyone involved with ECCP or Truth Colorado.
I am proud to have served the Democratic Party and made a run for county commissioner in 2008 even though I knew that I was almost certainly going to lose by a landslide to former Commissioner John Shipper. It is called civic responsibility and obviously Mr. Richardson does not honor anyone but the winners. It is highly unlikely that he would ever have thrown his own hat into the ring had he known from the onset of his campaign that he would lose by a wide margin. He likes to participate when the odds are in his favor.
But it might be important to point out that winning does not always make you virtuous. I would remind Mr. Richardson that former County Treasurer Billie Mill's staff incorrectly placed motor vehicle registration fees into the wrong accounts for a period of 2.5 years. She was unable to spot her department's mistakes and it caused a $1,000,000 shortfall. Normally a person would be held accountable in some way, shape or form for that kind of mistake. Not so in Elbert County. Everybody knew that it was her department that failed the county and yet she was still elected to the office of County Assessor. That is just how party-driven this county has become because the Republicans so outnumber the Democrats. Apparently, Mr. Richardson is okay with that and chooses to demean candidates who did nothing more than offer to run for public office. Now that is bashing. http://www.denverpost.com/2010/09/16/elbert-county-mired-in-crises/
I would like to point out that Truth Colorado may not be Mr. Richardson's cup of tea, but it has been around for quite some time now. This site offers a different perspective, political cartoons (all protected by the US Constitution), and has a decent following. I will venture to say that the insecure Mr. Richardson reads Truth Colorado with more regularity than most.
I do reporting and post a regular blog there. I can guarantee you, there is more factual reporting regarding Elbert County meetings at truthcolorado.com than you will find on any other county website. And yes, there is opinion and criticism of the local government when it is warranted. That is the way the world works when you get into politics. Not everybody is going to love what you do or say as an elected official. The good commissioner needs to grasp the notion that his constituents have a right to disagree or complain about his performance.
Michael Phillips runs Truth Colorado. Mike contracted polio at the age of nine months. He has lived well over sixty years with one of the most terrible diseases imaginable. He works hard and he receives almost no compensation for his work on Truth. He is tough on people who do not follow the rules of common decency and fair play. He offers this website up as a public service... whether Commissioner Richardson or anyone else values it or not. The effort he puts into this online newszine is monumental; physically painful and slow, difficult and thankless. Mike does this and everything in his life from the confines of his wheelchair, and I am appalled that Mr. Richardson belittles people like Mr. Phillips. Failed candidates? Vanity website? Mr. Richardson falls short of the mark if he thinks his own efforts exceed those of people like Jill Duvall, Mike Phillips, Rick Brown and many others who get up and do this work for free. They do not get a paycheck, carry a county credit card or have a juicy title with which to bludgeon anyone whose thoughts may counter their own.
Finally, there is Mr. Richardson's undying loyalty to County Manager Ed Ehmann and County Attorney Wade Gately. The taxpayers in Elbert County are just about to wade (pun intended) into what may be the most expensive lawsuit this county has ever seen. This is a far reaching and potentially explosive situation and the BOCC is going to have its hands full. Blind loyalty to friends in high places is the last thing we need. We need to know when things are going well and more importantly when they are not. Channel Seven News is out with the story tonight.
I have spoken with the attorney representing the county employee who has filed suit against the county. Despite what the BOCC and their employees may be telling those around them, there are expert witnesses who are saying that this could be a huge and extremely expensive lawsuit and the county is more than likely going to have a catastrophe on its hands if it loses this case. The Federal fines alone will boggle most people's minds when all is unveiled, and there are many people who are being targeted. Suffice it to say, the losers will once again be the Elbert County taxpayers, since those who are responsible are indemnified.
Mr. Richardson, Mr. Thayer and Mr. Wilcox need to start governing today, stop dallying in partisan politics and develop thicker skin in the face of disagreements. The attorneys will take care of the mistakes and if people are guilty of misconduct, this new BOCC will have to clean house, not make excuses. When Mr. Richardson was sworn into office, he vowed to represent the county and all of its residents, not just those who are in agreement with his particular point of view. Any attempts by Commissioner Richardson to censure political views on independent websites goes well beyond his job description.
Sunday, April 9, 2017
During the last election, the good folks over at Kiowa Court House went out out of their way to provide a break area replete with snacks and beverages for those of us working on the count. Ed Ehmann kindly gave up his office for quite some time so that the election volunteers would have a place where they could get a much needed respite from the tedious work of conducting an election. And in that office on the north wall was a colorful map of the county divided up by regions.
Being the political wonk that I am, the map spawned some interest and I wondered what possible divisions in our county were being made by those large areas on the map. When I stood to look at the carefully divided representation of our county, it became abundantly clear just how important this document was. With absolutely no facetiousness in this statement whatsoever, I was reminded how easily we forget the real purpose of county government and just how crucial it is.
The map on the wall to which I am referring divides the county into the areas of responsibility that each of the county road grader operators are required to cover. Each area had a name on it which represented the driver of the blade operator. One area. One name. In terms of the size of some these designated zones, it becomes abundantly clear that each of these names is very important to each and every one of us who lives in Elbert County.
We all are aware of the deficiency this county has when it comes to the amount of actual paved roads. The last time I checked, it was somewhere a little over 200 miles for an area about the size of a small New England state. That said, these operators did not create this shortage of pavement, nor did they ever get a vote on what materials were purchased to build our vast array of dirt roads. No, all they are asked to do is keep the roads open. That is a gargantuan task and they get the job done.
Whether you want to admit it or not, Elbert County does not have enough commerce to supply all of our population with gainful employment. What that means is that a significant number of people in this county have no other choice than to get up every work day and commute into the metropolitan areas along the Front Range. My wife and I did it for years. We drove in 50+ miles and we drove back 50+ miles so that we could build our dream house and have our beautiful woods. And yes, because our roads get muddy, snow covered and sloppy beyond all description, we, too, have cursed the County Gods and screamed possibly the most asinine complaint ever uttered in our beautiful county, "Where the hell is the #%&ing blade driver?"
Truly, the answer to that utterance of stupidity has a very simple answer. They are out working to keep you safe. They probably have been out all night long. Their families are worried about them. They are not superheroes, but they are about as close to superheroes as anything we have to offer here in Elbert County. It will also probably surprise no one when I say that for the importance of the work they do and the strange hours they put in, they are under-compensated and under-appreciated. They are not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. They have protected you and your family as surely as any sheriff's deputy or firefighter and yet they receive almost none of the same type of recognition those other heroic people receive.
It is time to reverse that lack of recognition. It is time to thank these people for the important work that they do. I am fortunate enough to know my local operator. He is a good family man and has been there for me and my community more times than I can count. Get to know your road grader operator. If you see them in the store shake their hand and thank them. If you see them on the road, give them the space and patience necessary to do their work. And just don’t take them for granted. When the county fair is up and running at the fairgrounds in Kiowa in Augusts, go over and watch them compete with their graders and let them amaze you with their skills. These people deserve no less.
Think about that the next time you get to work and punch in on time. Think about this the next time you arrive home during a storm and a loved one shows you how much they appreciate that you are home, safe and sound. You had a lot of help getting there.
Monday, April 3, 2017
Suffice it to say, you need a program to follow all the twists and turns that have gone into the evolution of Colorado's tax laws. Two major shifts over the years are about to cause those of us who live in Elbert County a major headache. At first blush, it appears that the residents in the county will soon be receiving tax breaks due to the Gallagher Amendment passed a quarter of a century ago and the 1992 TABOR Measure (Tax Payer Bill of Rights) written by the Libertarian politician, Douglas Bruce. It is beyond the scope of a mere blog post to fully detail the ramifications that the combination of these two pieces of legislation have caused during the past 25 years, but suffice it to say, it has been both a blessing and a curse to people of all political persuasions. It has, in large part, done what it was advertised to do, which was to control tax and spend policies by both political parties in Colorado. But for everything that might you want in the way of controlling taxes, there is always a down side. The problem is how the cuts are made, what the law values, and more importantly what the law deems unnecessary.
Briefly, The Gallagher Amendment was an amendment to the Colorado Constitution. It was voted upon, passed by the voters and put into place in 1982. The gist of the bill was about Colorado's property taxes. The part that most crucially impacts us today in this amendment is the language requiring that the largest portion of taxes derived from property taxes must come from commercial properties. Residential property taxes cannot exceed what comes from the commercial side of the ledger. That works well enough until you run into a period of time when residential properties values begin to soar. That means that our residential taxes must be slashed to stay below what the commercial taxes are bringing into the coffers.
Sounds good, right? Hold your horses there, Betty! Go back to science class for just a moment. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Sometimes we do not want to look at what our little windfalls are truly costing us. See all of those noses littering the ground around you? Those were cut off to spite lots of peoples own faces. We in rural Colorado have way more to lose than those living in the cities.
We have been seeing property values on the rise for a good long while here in Colorado. People love this state. They love the tourist offerings. They are curious about the state's stand on marijuana legalization. They love the winter skiing and summer hiking. Gallagher is causing our taxes to go down and that also causes people to want to live here. Unfortunately, with this drop in taxation, the services that are paid for by the property taxes also take a hit and that can be dangerous in vast areas of open land where fires can break out from lightning or human carelessness at any time. I won't bother debating climate change, but I will say our continued dry spells, whatever the cause, make fire a genuine, legitimate reason for concern. Rising house values and lowering tax rates cannot replace your home, your outbuildings or your livestock from a disaster. Only fire prevention has a chance to do that, and one of the major hits as a result of the perfect storm between TABOR and Gallagher is that it hits rural fire protection districts the hardest.
TABOR is much more complicated and has been challenged and changed several times. But suffice it to say it has both strength and weaknesses. From Wikipedia, "In 1992, the voters of the state approved a measure which amended Article X of the Colorado Constitution that restricts revenues for all levels of government (state, local, and schools). Under TABOR, state and local governments cannot raise tax rates without voter approval and cannot spend revenues collected under existing tax rates without voter approval if revenues grow faster than the rate of inflation and population growth. Revenue in excess of the TABOR limit, commonly referred to as the "TABOR surplus", must be refunded to taxpayers, unless voters approve a revenue change as an offset in a referendum. Under TABOR, the state has returned more than $2 billion to taxpayers." In other words, the tax cuts become permanent without a formal vote to the contrary. These are lean times for Colorado fire protection districts and help is nowhere on the horizon.
In Platte Canyon Fire Protection District, a 280 square mile area that is prone to dangerous prairie fires, the cuts will be particularly severe. It is estimated that the cuts could be as deep as 18% or $380,000 per year to a department of only sixteen firefighters. There is no waste to cut. The fact of the matter is that TABOR requires these types of cuts with no regard to public safety, and that puts everyone at risk. Elbert County will also be experiencing tax cuts which will cause deep cuts to our local fire departments. I urge you to go and spend some time at one of our district fire protection facilities and see the excellent job they do on a bare bones budget. There is no waste and there is much sacrifice to keep us all safe.
So here in rural Colorado, the chickens have come home to roost. We all want to protect our rural way of life. Oh sure, there are some elected officials who will plan and scheme to bring more rooftops and with it, more commercial development. It would have certainly caused less impact on our money that we receive from the state if we had more commercial development, but up to this point, commercial enterprises have shown little interest in coming to Elbert County. Truth be told it is because we have so little infrastructure, mostly dirt roads and almost no central sewage or water. Such is the story of rural America. Rural lifestyles here along the Front Range guarantee fewer safety net options, and until the fire comes, nobody really talks about the situation.
The impact of these budget cuts affects not only fire protection, but also schools and almost every other use that is paid for by state tax dollars. Millions of dollars are not going to be spent on local governments. $500,000,000 are estimated to be cut from local governments in 2018 alone. Our county is already broke and scrambling to make ends meet. A cut in the money from the state will not be helpful. Oh, and did I mention that it impacts law enforcement? We all know what happens when the law enforcement budget gets cut in Elbert County. We will either have to let officers go or come up with ways to generate more revenue and that always comes back to the local citizen's pocketbooks.
So what can we do? It is not easy, but we have to stop listening to politicians and vote for our values. If we want better fire protection, better schools, and great law enforcement we have to ask our legislature to address this problem. It has to get on the ballot. We need to have the tax laws written in such a way that we are both fiscally responsible and fair to those of us living in rural Colorado. Nobody should have to worry about the possibility of having a fire destroy their home. We have to build in a means to augment budgets that have been impacted unfairly by the TABOR/Gallagher situation. We have made changes to TABOR already, and some would do away with it altogether, but I will settle for us just making anything happen that moves the needle on the common sense gauge more to the middle. I like a good tax cut as well as anybody. I love my home, my animals, my environment and my neighbors more.